Less of Me, All of HIM

dadandmomI’ve always believed in God, but from a young age I realized religion and that “church stuff” wasn’t for Me. I had been invited to church by my friends and had gone a handful of times, but I never felt connected and never found much enjoyment out of going. In my teenage years I stopped all church activities and had no desire to get involved. I felt that God didn’t care about me and I wasn’t good enough to deserve any of His attention. I always imagined how great it would be to truly know Him and have Him in my life, but it seemed more like a nice fantasy than a possible reality. I accepted the thought that you had to be special in order to know God, or that only truly “good” people were privileged enough to have His support. I made no effort to turn to Him, yet anytime something bad happened to me I quickly blamed God for it. I would always say “Why me? Why can’t you just help me out?” Or “How could you let this happen to me?” The word “Me” was way too prevalent in my vocabulary. When I went off to college, my selfish thoughts became stronger.

I met Brooke my sophomore year and later we would marry. Before her, I had always been shy when it came to girls, but she made me feel so comfortable that we hit it off immediately. Soon after, we started dating and became really close. However, it seemed that the closer we became the more I pulled away. We developed something great and she cared about me, but the enemy has a way of attacking you when you’re at your happiest. Toxic thoughts flooded my brain, and quickly I started worrying about getting so committed to someone at my young age. I had always been told, “Your college years are the best years of your life and you should enjoy them while you’re young.” So that’s exactly what I did, but it only caused more hurt.

I surrounded myself with bad influences, and began to drink and smoke regularly. My idea of fun at the time was getting drunk and high and surrounding myself with a bunch of people at a party. With my new perspective of “live while you’re young” I started turning my back on the only person, besides my parents, who actually cared about me. I began talking to other girls behind Brooke’s back and justified it by the fact that I was young and in college. I hurt her many times and shrugged it off, but for reasons unknown, she stuck with me and still had hope that I would come back to her. To this day, it eats at me when I think about how I treated her and the things I put her through. The last time I would do anything to hurt her was when I finally stopped to truly look her in the face and see the pain in her eyes. She had lost the bright optimism in her eyes and it was because of me. I finally realized how much I loved her because it felt like my heart had been stabbed seeing her so hurt. She loved me so much and I was throwing it away, and it wasn’t until I almost pushed her too far that I could see the damage I caused. I was sick to my stomach for the way I treated her. That wasn’t who I wanted to be, and I wouldn’t continue to act that way. I still partied, but I stayed committed to her and we were rebuilding our relationship. Not soon after, I was tested to my limits.

One day, while I was working out, I received a text that blew me away. Brooke had texted me and told me she was pregnant. My heart sank, and I knew it had to be a mistake. After three pregnancy tests, we realized that there was no mistake. My world came crashing down, and all I could think was that my life was over. I thought, “I’m too young to have a baby.” I was still in college and I figured I would have to drop out, and all my hopes and dreams would be thrown away. My selfish thinking only alienated Brooke. I didn’t think about her or how she felt, I thought that it was all about “Me.” All I knew was that I didn’t want to have a baby. After weeks of trying to decide what to do, Brooke made the correct decision and she told me she would be keeping the baby. I became infuriated, and of course, all I could say is, “why Me!?”

That night I went for a drive, and I yelled at God. I cursed his name, and screamed, “Why are you doing this to Me!” “Why won’t you help Me?” Then, I told him “I hate you!” Finally, there it was. All my feelings about God had culminated to one underlying theme, I hated Him. My thinking was that He ignored me and allowed all the bad things in my life to happen. But through all the bad things that happened in my life, not one time did I ever truly ask for His help. I assumed that He would help me no matter what, even though I turned my back on Him and never made an effort to get close to Him. As immature and foolish as I was, I was right about one thing. He WOULD help me out no matter what. It just took a little while for me to realize He was in the process of saving me.

On January 5th 2011, one of the greatest moments in my life happened; Blakelee Nicole Davidson was born. After almost 9 months of waiting my little girl had arrived. The love I felt that day was indescribable and completely unquantifiable. The type of love I had for her was something I had never felt before. I had this overwhelming desire to protect her and I was sure of one thing, I would give everything I had to make sure she was taken care of. I didn’t fully understand at the time, but God had given me a gift. Raising Blakelee forced me to quit thinking about myself and focus strictly on being the best Dad I could be. In doing so, I quit hanging around bad influences, and my relationship with Brooke grew stronger. I was truly happy for the first time, but something still wasn’t right. I began having an overwhelming feeling that I needed to go to church.

I didn’t know why but I felt like Brooke and I needed to go to church, and felt like God wanted Me, specifically, to go. I had been to Gateway Church once for the Christmas play and I really enjoyed it, so we made plans to attend a service. Before then, I had never felt a connection with previous pastors, but Robert Morris was different. That first service opened my eyes and by the end of it I was connected to more than just the church, but I felt connected to God for the first time. I don’t remember the exact service, but I remember Pastor Morris saying that God made us in His image, and just like humans can laugh and cry, so can He. Pastor Morris also said that God has a deep desire to get to know us and He will make an attempt to be in our lives. Suddenly, I began thinking about all the negative things I had said to God and especially what I said in my car to Him the night I found out Brooke was going to have our baby. I had said so many hurtful things to him and I felt ashamed. All He wanted was to be in my life, but all I did was curse Him every time my life got tough. Yet after all the times I turned my back on Him, He still was itching at me to get close to Him.

At the end of the service I gave my life to Christ and finally realized that I was worthy of His love. I felt His presence all around me and couldn’t help but cry. I prayed that He would forgive me for all my selfishness and I told Him that I loved Him, and in that moment, I felt His love right back. I realized that this “church stuff” WAS for me.  I realized that before that point I was on a path to destruction because I only cared for myself. Through all that, He still blessed me with a beautiful child which forced me to stop my selfish living. I realize now that all the times I thought He was punishing me, He was only trying to save me. Brooke never gave up on me and neither did God.  If God hadn’t given me Brooke and Blakelee I’d still be on a path to destruction.

Since then, I’ve become closer to Christ and am filled with a strong desire to know Him more. I’m not where I want to be fully, but I’m on the right path. He is always there for me and I turn to Him for everything. He’s given me a lovely wife and TWO beautiful daughters, and I thank him every day for the sacrifices He made just so I could have what I have.

It was never about “me” and it will never be about “me” because there would be no “me” without “HIM.”

 Written by Brad Davidson, newlywed husband of an Embrace Grace Alumni Brooke

Women at War

grenadeandroseI remember that moment that my thinking changed with women.

I went from seeing women through my own judgmental eyes to seeing women through eyes of love. It wasn’t a gradual change really, it was the kind of moment that impacts you and you never forget it … EVER.

I was on my way to a women’s ministry retreat. I had loaded up everything on the bus and I was totally nervous and out of my comfort zone. I had one friend that was on the trip with me but we had assigned seating and so she was on the far end of the bus, so I was surrounded by women that I had no clue who they were. I’m actually a people-person and pretty good about making small-talk with people I don’t know, but because of all of the “unknown’s” on the trip, I kind of clammed up and went into my shell.

We took off and were on our way. Women started speaking into the microphone in the bus, sharing their story. We went through several women and I was amazed hearing how much people went through. My stomach was starting to growl so I tapped on the ladies’ shoulder in front of me. She was a young, beautiful blonde girl and she had cute work-out clothes on. She looked around my age and looks like someone I would hang out with. I said, “Excuse me, do you know when we are stopping for lunch?” She turned her head around quick towards me and snapped, “Well, maybe if I could hear then I would know!”

I thought, Daaaaang. Why does she have to be so rude? It was the first thing I said the whole trip? It’s not like I’ve been back here talking the whole time? Wow, is everyone as rude as this girl on this trip? This trip is going to stink, wow.

As I sat back in my seat, stewing in my annoyance at being snapped at so rudely and it just kept festering as I sat there getting bigger and bigger. Women were still speaking but I couldn’t hear anything because all I could think about was me. Finally it was the girl’s turn in front of me to go, the girl that was rude. I snapped back to attention because I thought, I want to hear about this lady. Maybe something will make sense of why she is in a bad mood – did she not have her coffee this morning? Or maybe she had to skip her work-out that she obviously was so into? Did she get in a fight with her husband? I wanted to know.

She took the microphone and started speaking. She still had that sarcasm tone going on even when telling her story. I heard about her childhood and then she started telling a story that would change my life. She said a few years before, she was married to her newlywed and they had a 4 month baby. And she told the story of how he died unexpectedly right in front of her while she was holding her baby.

As she was sharing this story, my tears could not be contained. My heart just grieved for this girl as I wept in my seat. She still had the anger going but it was like God ripped the blinders off my eyes and I saw her in a completely different way. She had been through so much. I could not even imagine going through what she had been through. So that’s why she was angry. That’s why she was snapping at me and everyone else around her. Her heart was completely broken in 2.

I heard many more stories on that trip and God did a radical healing in me and I know that I came home from that trip completely changed. Me and that girl actually became friends. We ended up finding out that we had a lot in common and really connected. When I stopped taking personal the tough exterior that she had, and quit making it about myself, I could see past that into her heart. And speak to who she really was, and because of that, I saw her walls coming down. She started getting softer and we started to really open up to each other.

Another time, I remember hanging out a lot with an Embrace Grace girl and she seemed really judgmental about girls that choose adoption. She didn’t understand it and we would have discussions about it and she would almost get a little harsh and rude about it. I knew there had to be more to what her thinking was because she seemed really bitter and I knew the way she spoke about the girls that did adoption, had to come from something more than just what she was saying. As I got to know her more and more and she started to open up and tell me her story, the puzzle pieces started to make sense.

Her and her little sister had to grow up very quickly. With a mother addicted to drugs and living from house to house in an environment unfit for children, CPS finally came and ripped her and her sister away from her mother because her mom was deemed unfit to parent children due to poor decisions. She was placed with a family that seemed ok in the beginning, but unfortunately shortly after they were adopted, went through a traumatic event themselves that left the adoptive father and main provider, paralyzed and in a wheelchair when he fell off the roof one day on a job. The family went through so much transition and doing everything different, that it ended up not being a great experience for this Embrace Grace girl. She looked at her mom through eyes of hurt and rejection. So therefore all adoptions to her, seemed that way too. It all started to make sense. Once we found some core hurts, we began praying and working through healing in those areas that she pushed down for so long.

Now if a women acts rude, non-social, harsh or anything else, instead of automatically thinking, “what did I do to her?” I now think, “what has happened in her life for her to act this way? jesus heal all those hurt places and help me see the real girl in there that’s fighting to be free.”

I just had the pleasure of reading Jan Greenwood’s book, Women at War. It is SO good.womenatwar She talks about how we need to view the women around us through eyes of love. When we take those blinders off and see the world the way God sees them, it changes everything. You finally just get it … hurt people hurt people.

What if all of us women gathered around and loved every women that God placed in our lives, the way God loves each of us. Loving relentlessly. We could change the world! Jan said in her book,

“We need to stop fighting among ourselves. The time has come to call a cease-fire between our sisters and us. Why not dare to go a step further and actually declare peace? I realise it’s a bit naive to think we could all just hold hands and make up. And I don’t want a false kind of peace – the kind that requires many rules and giant consequences. The peace I’m thinking of comes from within and it’ happens one person at a time. I’m looking toward a culture shift that will allow us to lay down our weapons of war and embrace a lifestyle of love. To accomplish this, you and I will need to come to the negotiation table and begin again. Each of us must do the work of repentance and forgiveness. We need to make a conscious choice to change the way we think and the way we act. We have to decide to invest in the same women around us. I know I’m talking about something radically counterculture. But it is possible.”

Seriously ladies, Jan is right. We can do this!! You really need to purchase this book because she goes into detail on how to think differently about the women you know, and the women you don’t. It’s so worth the read and even buy your friends. If we all partnered together for one cause, we can do BIG things in the Kingdom! Go to Jan Greenwood’s website for purchasing options! You’re welcome! She is a walking and talking picture of grace and everything lovely. She has made a huge impact on my life and she probably has no idea. SO proud to call her friend.

I’ll end this note with one of my favorite quotes in her book:

“God is calling us to rise above our personal agendas, fears, and wounds and draw near to one another in a way that synergizes our individual callings. Those of us who have been walking longer should lead the way. If we pull together, sow together and reap together, we will set in motion a movement of love, acceptance and peace that will change the generations that follow us. Our daughters and granddaughters will walk strong and whole, free of our past, empowered to bring hope and healing to others.” 

Written by Amy Ford

Did You Hear Who Got Pregnant?

pregnantsonoIt was only a few weeks after I had given birth to my precious daughter when I was sitting in class and my friend leaned over and whispered to me, “Hey, Raquel, did you hear who got pregnant?”

I froze.

My heart sank.

I stared blankly at his eyes.

Did he know who he was talking to? Did he already forget that just weeks ago, I was that girl – I was that pregnant girl too?

He must have not realized because he continued to tell me who had just gotten pregnant.

As I listened to him go on, those words kept echoing in my head.

“Did you hear who got pregnant?”

“Did you hear who got pregnant?”

It made me shudder.

It made my heart break.

Those very words almost drove me to get an abortion.  People don’t realize the pain those words bring.

Did he not realize that those words are not kind words, they are not compassionate, they are not loving?

In fact, they are the exact opposite.

They are words of gossip, judgment, and death. 

Those words…”Did you hear who got pregnant?” are reserved for those women who weren’t supposed to be pregnant.  For the unplanned, the young, the unwed.  For everyone else they say “Guess who’s having a baby?!”  And it’s exciting; it’s joyful; and it’s not gossip…people don’t say it in a whisper.

As those words kept echoing..Did you hear who got pregnant?

I remembered everything.

The fear

The shame

The embarrassment

I remember being so afraid of all the people that were going to gossip about me being pregnant and thinking it was going to be worse than getting an abortion.  And I believed that.  I believed that because those words are cruel.  They are not meant to bring life, forgiveness, and healing.  They are meant to tear down.  And I almost gave in to the fear of those words.

Luckily, I didn’t give in….but those words still hurt.

I wonder just how many people said those words…… about me.

How many people gossiped about me the past nine months when I was pregnant?

As I stared at my friend after he told me all the details of who got pregnant, I simply looked at him and said, “How great that she chose life…I know it was a hard decision.”

And then his eyes got big and he remembered who he was talking to.  Yes…I was that girl too buddy.

I hope I made him think.

I hope I make you think.

Because what if…..

What if instead of “Did you hear who got pregnant?” we said, “Did you hear who chose life?” 

It would be a whole different kind of conversation.  A conversation about life.

Just changing a few words  turned gossip and judgment into something life giving and life affirming….and into words of love.

What a small difference a few words can make.

But it’s all the difference in the world….

And it could be all the difference in a life.

Written by Raquel Kato

You Are My Sunshine

pregnantsunshineThis morning I woke up and began the day just like any ordinary day. Making lunches, getting 1 son off to school, being a nurse to my little one that has been sick for 2 days with a stomach bug, you know the joys of motherhood.  I began saying, “I trust You Jesus, I trust You Jesus.  You are his healer and I believe he will be completely healthy, healed and whole so that he can go on his field trip to the zoo tomorrow since he has been counting down the days until this special day.  I trust You Jesus.”

As I left my home to run some errands, I prayed that God would open my eyes and show me something along the path and journey that I would be taking.  Something out of the ordinary, a special sign or wonder. If you know anything about me, signs speak to me in volumes, it can be as simple as an 18 wheeler with a quote on the side such as RELIABLE… and I will say aloud, “Jesus you are so reliable and always come through for us.  I can make a sign mean something out of nothing… some people laugh, others are inspired to join in and look for signs along their journey as well.”

As I was driving past Main Street in Grapevine, I noticed a street named Sunshine.  It made me feel warm and cozy on the inside and then reminded me of an Embrace Grace Girl that had shared a story with me this past Monday night. She had asked for prayer and amidst her tears, began to share how her first sonogram that she had today of her baby was not the picture perfect idea that she had in her mind.  She was told that her baby was measuring somewhat smaller than anticipated and it caused her to be anxious and have doubts arising. She said, “I’ve been eating. I’ve been feeding my baby.  I’m not sure what could be wrong?”  Some of us leaders began praying over her, for any anxiety to be replaced with peace and a sweet calmness would settle over her. That she could lift up her prayers and concerns to Jesus and that He knit her baby together in her womb, and as we prayed over her, and placed our hands upon her tummy, sweet tears began to flow from her eyes.  We prayed for miracles to happen and that her baby would begin to stretch and grow at the right pace and that she could rest calmly knowing that her baby was safely tucked inside God’s mighty hands.

A sense of peace began to settle over her during the class and she was able to relax more.  She was sitting beside me as we did an exercise of breaking mosaic tiles into small broken pieces.  She began telling me a story of how God has been speaking to her and that He had given her a song, You are my Sunshine. She said this is the first time she has heard a song in her heart like this. I reassured her, see you are hearing God.  She also joyfully showed me a picture of these adorable little shoes she had handmade for her baby with the most precious circular designs and colors of black, gray, white and bright yellow! The same exact pattern that she had chosen for the custom made baby shoes, was also hand chosen and designed into a baby burp cloth that a sweet lady blessed her with at her embrace grace baby shower.  She was amazed that the same exact colors and patterns she had chosen to hand make her babies shoes, was also a perfect match with the bib. She said no one else knew that I picked this pattern.  I told her those are sweet kisses from God and that only He plans, designs and arranges the most amazing gifts.  She said the bright colors of the yellow kept reminding her of the song, You are my sunshine. 

After seeing the Sunshine street today, I sent her an encouraging text that I was thinking about her and that it made me smile and was praying peace and comfort all around you.

Then early this morning, a different Embrace Grace girl called me after she had just had her sonogram and was in tears. She said the sonographer and OB said her baby is still measuring small. She is due in less than a month. I began to pray over her and her womb. Praying a force field around her and her baby in the womb.  Began praying for a miracle that God would stretch and grow her baby and that God had knit him together and knows everything about him.  She said she was going back this afternoon for another sonogram and to please be praying.  I sent her encouraging messages throughout the day.

Nothing is impossible for you Jesus.  I am believing you will stretch and grow this sweet baby boy and that the sonographer and OB will notice a significant difference from the sono this morning to the afternoon. Our faith is in you God.

This same girl had also messaged me after her first sonogram back in December saying that the Dr. thought the baby was measuring small and might possibly have an extra chromosome, but then reassured her all was ok.  I began looking back at our text messages we sent back to each other and had chills today when I read them.  It brings such confirmation to the similarity of both girls and what they are experiencing this week. And He wants to bring hope, peace and sunshine in the midst of their cloudy diagnosis from the Dr’s.

I am praying for a miracle. God has your child in the palm of His mighty hands and will stand by your side believing with you for him to be strong, healthy, and to thrive and live outside your womb. There are some scriptures I will send you to begin declaring them over your womb. Then here is the song that was playing in my heart at that time back in December and I shared with her…

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey, you never know dear how much I lcve you, please don’t take my sunshine away.

Yes, the very same song! Do you see the theme here? …

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart I’ve conquered the world.  {John 16:32-33 MSG}

With both of these girls I shared that if all they can say throughout the day is I trust you Jesus and keep repeating it over and over a million times a day if needed. So that their hearts would believe and trust that God is for them and their baby. His desire is to breathe life into their babies and for them to be safe and secure. Wrapped in His loving arms.

As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the master gave her a trusting heart- and she believed. {Acts 16:14 MSG}

My Mom recently blessed me with this amazing book called Prayer Warrior Mom– covering your kids with God’s blessings and protection by Marla Alupoaicei.  I have been reading it and declaring scriptures over my own children and also for embrace grace mommies and babies.

Maybe you have experienced a time when you received a negative report from the Dr or are going through some type of difficulties in your life right now.  I am praying for you as you read these words, that you will be able to also say, I trust you Jesus.  I may not know the exact outcome, or how all things are going to work out.  But I choose to trust you Jesus.  I am praying for miracles, signs and wonders to abound in your life.

Below are some scriptures you can make as declarations in your life:

But you, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. {Psalm 3:3}

Arise, cry aloud in the night. At the beginning of the night watches; pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to Him for the life of your little ones. {Lamentations 2:19 NASB}

Your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. {Isaiah 58:8}

But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings… {Malachi 4:2}

Jesus is your Sunshine and will light up your life.  He will shine His rays of sunshine and hope and bring life, love and laughter to you.

If you have a prayer request and would like us to join with you and believe with you, please leave us a comment.

Written by Salina Duffy

 

Face to Face with My Father

face to faceeWe made our way down the aisle, to the third row from the front of the sanctuary. I settled in to my seat and looked over the bulletin, then sat quietly, people watching, as a slow trickle of people filled the seats nearby. A couple, probably in their mid-50s, took seats in front of us. I studied the man. Something about him was curious to me. To anyone else, including my husband seated next to me, this man was just like any other in the room. There was no real reason I should have been so interested in who he was, except that God was highlighting him to me for a reason. Throughout the 15 minutes before service and all through worship I was distracted as I watched his familiar behavior. This man, he resembled… my father–the father I met once for a few fleeting moments during a child support hearing, when I was seventeen years old.

The poor posture of this man was the same as I remember of my father’s, six years ago. Instead of facing the stage or screens during worship, this man stood sideways, facing down the aisle, like he was nervous to participate in singing with so many people congregated around him. I am told my father was a socially nervous man. And because this man was positioned in such a way, I could see he had blue eyes and a full mustache, just as I remember my father having that single day I met him. The man was not very tall, which fit the mold of my father, also. As I continued examining this man, in the least noticeable way possible, I had the funniest thought…

What if this man in front of me is my father? I snickered to myself, thinking–knowing–there was no way. He lives in another state… but he could have moved within the last six years. His parents lived in north Texas six years ago… but what are the odds he would end up here, in the same room, sitting a row in front of me, for a Saturday evening service at my church?

I was missing all of the worship service. I wanted to worship. I needed to worship, especially with this strange anxiety developing in my soul, about a stranger on the second row. I commanded my heart to worship, just in time to pour out my praise in the last song of the set. The campus pastor stood on the stage, welcoming all attending, and before the sermon, he invited everyone to greet someone around them before being seated. So curious about this man, I remained forward facing, hoping he would turn toward me, and he did. His hand reached out; I shook it and smiled inquisitively. He voluntarily shared his name with me. Randy. He smiled and turned to sit down. A weakness flooded my body. How uncanny, this man, whom I had studied for the previous 30-40 minutes, comparing similar traits to a man in my memory, also shared the same name as my father.

Now, I needed to know this man’s last name. I needed to know if I had just shaken the hand of a man whose DNA I shared. The weekend message had already begun, so I leaned in closely to Kyle’s ear and whispered as quickly and understandably as I could, to bring him up to speed with the ongoing (mostly in my mind) of the past half hour. Seeing as he is quite comfortable with greeting and meeting new people, because it comes with his job description as someone who oversees a ministry, I suggested (okay, I insisted) how after the service he should inquire more about this man and find out his last name. Kyle agreed and continued watching the pastor speaking. I did not hear much of the message, though, because I was too busy going over what if scenarios in my mind. What if this was my father? Would I tell him who I was? Would I remain another face in the crowd?

I recalled in fast motion my childhood without my father present. A very yucky feeling arose within me. I had a great childhood. I really did not suffer much without him in my life. I do not carry ugly thoughts toward him each day, because I do not give him a single thought most of the time. But as the memory filled my mind, of a sweet little, six year old girl, delightfully twirling in a new dress, modeling for her mommy, saying, “He doesn’t know what he’s missing, Mommy,” an anger roared from the pit of my stomach to defend this tiny little girl, this tiny little me in my mind. Now that I have two tiny, little, precious girls of my own, and I have witnessed the sweetest adoration of their daddy, and the affirmation he provides their spirits, I cannot imagine how a man would choose to miss out on such irreplaceable sweetness. After this memory, I no longer wondered if I would tell this man in front of me (if he was my father) who I was, but I wanted to completely tell him off, for not only missing my life, but sending money to my mother even before my birth, desiring to end my life!

I began imagining the scenario, however, what I intended to imagine of blasting my anger at the man, the Lord took over and gave me a vision of his desire for the situation, should I sit face to face with this man in a moment of “coincidental” collision. I saw myself sitting on the second row of the sanctuary, next to the man in front of me. Upon introducing myself, and reminding this man who I was (his child), I calmly and kindly showed him the palm of my hand. I said to him, “My Father in heaven wrote my name on the palm of His hand before my birth. He made an incredible plan for my life, and I have a beautiful family as a result of His love and direction for me. So, while you may not have had a plan other than to end my life, those 23 years ago, my Jesus did, and I am so thankful for that plan. And harboring ugly feelings and unforgiveness for you does not enhance my life or His plan, so I forgive you.” I smiled a genuine smile, stood up, and walked away with my husband to pick up our girls from childcare.

What a vision! That is not at all what my mind would have created on my own, when presented with such an opportunity. I was shaken by this change of attitude, and shaking as I continued to wonder if the man sitting inches in front of me could truly be my biological father.

The service ended, Kyle made small talk with the man, and obtained his last name. When he came and found me, I begged him to share the last name of this man with me, before I told him the last name of my biological father (because my maiden name was all my own; it did not come from him). When Kyle revealed it to me, I felt both relieved and disappointed. This man’s last name was not the last name of my father. And while, he could have also recognized me during the service, and told Kyle a fake last name (I have clearly considered every possibility), I do not think it was my father seated a row away.

I do know I have discovered a new understanding of forgiveness from that strange hour of questioning and considering. For years I have thought I had forgiven my father for choosing to miss my life, for choosing to live making poor choices, instead of taking responsibility to turn his life around. I have thought because I do not dwell daily on the hurt or sadness he caused; because I do not have ugly thoughts of him often; or every time I hear the word, “dad” or “daddy,” I do not feel sad; because none of those things happen, I must not have unforgiveness in my heart for him. But all I discovered in the midst of a stranger, who could have been my father, is how just because I moved on from his hurts, does not mean I had chosen to forgive him for those hurts. I still had chains, though rusty and buried somewhere very deep, holding onto my heart, holding me back from some piece of the destiny God holds for that occupied area of my heart.

Yesterday I sat quietly alone, before my girls woke up, and chose to release any negative feelings I knew or did not know I had for my father. I chose to ask God to help me forgive him. I chose to believe, through the power of the blood of Jesus, should I sit inches away from my father, I can say I have forgiven him and use only words of kindness. When we choose to forgive, we vacate another piece of our heart to receive and dispense more love and truth. The power of forgiveness is freeing and critical to the condition of life we want to experience. I have asked the Lord to reveal any more forgiveness needing to take place in my heart, to be replaced with even more of His love to share.

God will work through anyone at any time to get the attention of the ones He loves. He does not present us with coincidences, only divine appointments and opportunities to learn more about a God who desires us to live freely in His love. However strange, I am thankful for the stranger sitting a row in front of me this past weekend. I am thankful God used such an odd opportunity to continue revealing His love and freedom to me.

Lord, will you reveal to each reader anyone he/she needs to forgive, so he/she may experience your healing power and your extravagant love for him/her in a brand new way. Thank you for loving each of us so much, you have not left us to forgive on our own, but offer your ability to do it for us if we release the desire into your hands. We love you and we are expectant of the work you will do in our lives through this process. Amen.

by Jacqueline Fox

Pro Life or Pro Birth: Loving Beyond

shower1When my group of Tuesday Bible Study mommy friends and I decided to ‘adopt’ a single, pregnant young girl for the Embrace Grace baby shower, I was excited to become part of something beyond ourselves and thankful (again) for such generous ladies with whom I have had the sweet opportunity to share life with for going on two years. There’s something special about the blessing of friends with similar values tackling many of the same obstacles day after day on this road we call motherhood, friends that I can text details to about the most unglamorous happenings of my days as a mother of a toddler and know that they will ‘get it’. And there’s also something uniquely special about not only living life together, but stepping out of our own [pretty comfortable] world into another, if even for just an evening, and that’s what I want to share with you now.

As my friends and I carried in arms full of gifts (fulfilled from a list of our girl’s specific needs for her upcoming arrival), we were blown away by the sheer extent of love and thoughtfulness that had transformed the sanctuary of Gateway’s NRH campus into a gorgeous baby shower; a beautiful sign welcomed the attendees, banquet tables were filled with perfectly frosted cupcakes, chocolate-dipped shortbread, biscotti, cream puffs, chips and salsa, mini croissants, fruit, punch, coffee and cream, people were mingling and hugging and greeting each other, and there were 25 large, round tables nicely dressed in crisp white tablecloths and bright bouquets of flowers. Each of these tables were assigned to one mommy-to-be and were topped with quite an array of gifts, both large and small, all prettily packaged.

We made our way to our girl’s table, arranged our gifts and waited expectantly for our girl to show up. She was a beauty! Her smile literally lit up the room and her dark eyes sparkled; she spoke with us like we were old friends and by the end of the night, we knew much of her heart-rending story. I imagine many of these 25 girls have lived through circumstances I’ve never been faced with. As I sat there and listened to our girl tell us about her life and witnessed her courage and resilience, I was hit with the magnitude of what my friends and I were experiencing: we were trying to bless someone else, but in turn she was blessing us! That’s often how it is, isn’t it? shower2

And then as I listened to the founders of Embrace Grace share from their hearts about the ministry, I found it difficult to hold back tears. One of them made a statement that rocked me and now, several days later, I’ve thought about it more times than I can say. She said something like this: “Churches should be the first place people run to in crises, but they’re often the last. We have to ask ourselves why that is… See, we can’t expect girls to have babies completely on their own with no outside help; that’s not pro-life, that’s just pro-birth.” She went on to elaborate about their mission and my mind was reeling.

I pray that more Christians begin to show their love more and politicize less. And that shower3includes myself. Our life mission is to imitate Christ, no? I am a complete advocate for the pro-life movement, no question. But really, if the church isn’t doing more to meet people where they’re at…such as girls who find themselves pregnant at 15…how can we expect them to follow Jesus from our example? If judgment and condemnation is their experience with us, there’s a deeper problem we need to address.

Embrace Grace is not a ministry of baby showers, by the way. That’s just a practical way to meet some very real needs and show a bit of tangible love. It is a ministry of care, discipleship and help for the babies and the mommas. Every Monday night, the young girl’s of Embrace Grace attend a class where they learn more about the Lord and His Word as they develop friendships with others. As of this year, a class for the guys (if they’re even in the picture) has begun, as well, and it is geared towards developing and leading them for the good of themselves and their potential families.shower4

When Embrace Grace started, there was no curriculum to use in such a ministry, but now they have written material that other churches have begun using in similar ministries; they are revolutionizing the way the Church supports girls dealing with crisis pregnancies. This ministry supports girls who want to give their babies up for adoption, as well. Another thing I find interesting is that there are practically no advertisements for this ministry. The leaders and volunteers put themselves in places where they are sure to meet pregnant girls, like at pregnancy centers, the girls who are already in the program tell others about it and church members who know about Embrace Grace share about it.

I left that baby shower with a new perspective and fresh appreciation for my church’s heart for people. I’ve been wrestling with this overriding question for several months now: do I really love people like Jesus loves them? Of course I love my husband, my son, my family and friends. But what about the people I simply cross paths with, the ones with whom I don’t connect as easily, and even the ones I really disagree with on the deepest levels?

shower5I think it comes down to really seeing people. Each time I get to know someone new, no matter how different I think we may be upon first impression, I seem to come to this unanimous conclusion: we are not all that different, no matter how the details contrast. We’re all people with pain and hopes and dreams and questions to ponder about life and the world we live in. And I’m pretty sure just listening and getting to know each other is a great start to loving each other.

Our night with our ‘adopted’ girl changed my heart in more ways than I can express. She is an example of bravery and strength in the toughest of circumstances. I’m humbled to have shared those few hours with her and to have seen what can happen when people invest time and love into others; they may soar to heights you never imagined.

Written by Shannon

Strategy

strategyStrategy :: a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result: a strategy for getting ahead in the world.

I just attended Pink Impact, the awesome women’s conference that Gateway Church hosts once a year. We heard amazing speakers like Charlotte Gambill, Priscilla Shirer, Chris Caine, Jan Greenwood, Debbie Morris, Elaine Fisher and Judah Smith. With almost every speaker we heard over 3 days, there was one word that was consistently repeated: Strategy.

The word was used in different ways with every speaker but it was definitely a common theme this year. God is telling us He wants us to get our action plan DOWN.

I’m not going to lie. I’m a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of girl. I try hard to make my to-do lists and get really proud of myself for taking the time to make my list and getting all my thoughts in order, but then an hour later I will lose the list and forget everything I wrote down. And what’s crazy, is that STRATEGIC is one of my strengths in the Strengthfinder book.

There are many different strategies used in the Bible in order to complete God’s will and purpose in the Bible. Moses had a strategy on how to delegate work, Nehemiah had a strategy on how to build, a lot of people had strategies on how to win battles and much more. They were victorious through the strategies that God gave them.

Even though we can’t control the future, and we don’t know what the future holds, we need to have direction in our life. We need to have some sort of plan going so we don’t wander.

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. {Proverbs 21:5}

Having an action plan helps you keep from failing. I know when I have dieted in the past, I would do so much better when I had a strategy of what I was going to eat for the day, instead of just choosing as I went. If I didn’t have a plan, I would base my eating choice on what I felt like at that moment instead of what I wanted. Or if I was shopping, I do so much better when I had a plan of how much I didn’t want to go over in my spending allowance. And even more seriously, if you’ve always been pro-life, sometimes with an unplanned pregnancy, even abortion might cross your mind in that moment of panic.

It might be time in your life (and mine) to make a plan!

It’s time to take steps toward that dream that you’ve always had but it seems just too far away to reach. It’s not! Just start taking steps and eventually, you will get there. It’s time to create a plan on how to protect your home spiritually and pray about what you will allow into your home and what you will NOT allow. Make your list of character traits in your future husband that God gives to you and don’t settle for a guy that doesn’t match up to the spiritual leader you want for your home and future family!

When we make decisions in a weak moment that we haven’t taken the time to think out before, can potentially lead to a poor decision you might regret later.

Most importantly, it’s time to make a strategy in your spiritual life! Spiritual warfare is going around all around us and we need to be ready to fight. Spend time with God daily and read His word, guard your heart and mind, and you always need to hear, believe and obey! You can try to make your own plans and do your own thing that doesn’t line up with God’s plans, but it will not ever work.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. {Matthew 6:33}

You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail. {Proverbs 19:21}

I love that a lot of marriage speakers encourage doing a “Vision Weekend” with your spouse – a weekend of prayer and aligning our lives to God’s plan for the following year – and doing it yearly! Even if you are a single mom, this is a great idea to have a get-away with just you and God and ask Him to give you an action plan for your life and your little family.

Do you have a strategy in your spiritual walk? Do you have a plan of action for your family? We would love to hear your action plan that God gives you! 

Written by Amy Ford